Numbers are a part of life. And although we might be getting numb, disconnected and desensitised to all the numbers with which we are bombarded daily, we should not get used to them. We should not lose sight of what they mean, explains Professor Alida Herbst, Director of the School of Psychosocial Health at the North-West University.
“We should acknowledge the fact that statistics give us a picture of what is happening around the world regarding Covid-19, but behind those numbers are real people. It is estimated that up to nine persons are directly affected by each Covid-19 death. Lives are being lost and irrevocably changed due to Covid, and to hear or see that displayed purely in numerical terms can have a damaging effect. We do not always realise what effect this can have, and I think this is something that we do not always think about,” says Herbst.
“Lives are being infected and affected. I am worried that we are not aware of what those numbers really mean. We dissociate ourselves from all those numbers. We see those numbers on various platforms like traditional and social media, and unfortunately this has resulted in a disconnection to what those numbers really mean. However, it is difficult to acknowledge the losses and grief we are going through, because all we want is normality.”
Herbst goes on to point out that there are real people behind these statistics, people with real-life stories of illness, death, disruption, sorrow and despair. “These complex narratives cannot be calculated in numbers or presented as statistics.”
So, what should we do?
According to Herbst, symbolic gestures of unity can help show people that we not only see numbers, but that we acknowledge and appreciate what lies behind those numbers. Dedicated support groups by social service agencies and faith communities can reach out to those affected by the pandemic, and employers can rethink policies on compassionate leave following the death of a direct family member. Unresolved grief may result in complex grief reactions, including prolonged grief disorder and complicated or disenfranchised grief. All this increases the risk of developing serious mental-health problems. Given the complexities of burials and funerals under pandemic restrictions and the possibility of losing more than one family member to Covid-19, it may be insufficient to grant only the usual number of leave days.
“Employee wellness programmes can incorporate psychosocial education on loss, grief and bereavement. Opportunities to acknowledge grief and talk about it can greatly contribute towards emotional healing,” says Herbst.
“The media can sensitively share stories of sorrow, pain and loss, but also of hope, healing and recovery.”